Punk rock has been rather neglected since its heyday in the mid-’70s. Whilst London quintet Zulu, who can count Paul Simonon of The Clash‘s bass-playing son Louis as a member, are unlikely to break into the big league any time soon they do offer a reassurance that the genre is just as alive as it ever was with their debut mini-album, Way Of The Zulu. Released on – of all things – cassette, it makes a refreshing change from the norm.
It doesn’t start like it though. There’s a few seconds of silence before squealing feedback and scuzzy guitars get warmed up against a slow, plodding beat. Then the pace ups and for the remaining 16 and a half minutes (yes, the album really is that short) it doesn’t let up. The grotty Sistine Chapel is not only the longest song on the record, clocking in at a monstrous 164 seconds, but also the most sedate. But hereabouts all things are relative – it still rolls on at a quick-fire pace.
Luke Brennan’s vocals range from snarling to playful. He is remeniscent of a young Faris Badwan on the opener, and his theatrical pronunciation of the song title has hints of the maniacal. He also has a good knack for attention-grabbing phrases. Now That We Are Here sees him take the slightly-emo-phrase-on-paper “I can taste your tears” and make it creepy and he claims that “I don’t need money but it needs me” on Incarcerated For Thrills. However, the best of the bunch is when he asks on The Book “A combination of atoms collide, is this the rebirth of Christ?”
Sometimes the pace is so unrelentingly fast that it seems destined to all fall apart. Yet it doesn’t. The Book is driven by drums that are more powerful than they have any right to be, Now That We Are Here is anchored with a burst of sinister-sounding guitars and We’re Watching You is urgently thrilling. By the time it’s been and gone we’re already two-thirds of the way in and it barely feels like there’s been a pause for breath.
The biggest selling point though is that Zulu’s music, for the most part, avoids the elephant trap of pastiche. It wears its influences (Sex Pistols, The Clash &C.) on its sleeve, but it doesn’t feel like it’s trapped in a time warp. In the last decade or so many bands have looked towards the post-punk era for inspiration rather than the ugly sound of that genre’s predecessor, so it’s exhilarating to hear a rough and ready approach again.
But Zulu write decent punk songs. The brash attitude is worthless without them and that is why Way Of The Zulu will get several repeat listens. If you’re into rock that’s extremely loud and consists of songs under three minutes long, then this is worth seeking out.